Tendulkar, Zaheer included in Mumbai's semis squad
Mumbai's march towards their 38th Ranji Trophy crown has been bolstered by the inclusion of Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan in the 15-man squad for their semi-final clash against Saurashtra. The match will be played in Chennai from January 4-7.
The last time the duo played for Mumbai, the team won the title - in 2006-07, against Bengal.
That was Pravin Amre's first year as Mumbai coach and he has pleasant memories of the campaign, which culminated in the 132-run win in the final at the Wankhede Stadium. Both players had an impact, Tendulkar scoring a vital first-innings century and Zaheer picking up nine wickets for the match.
No wonder Amre was enthusiastic about their return to the side. "It will be a boost for our youngsters, who have already done well. Their presence will be highly motivating as the players will expect to do well along with them," he said.
During the league phase of the current season, Tendulkar chipped in with advice at a crucial juncture. Mumbai had just returned after a disappointing performance against Saurashtra, where they had to fight to save the game after following on. It was a wake-up call and, with three games to go, they could not afford to relax.
Back in town, after the England ODI series was cut short in the wake of the terror attacks in Mumbai, Tendulkar spent some valuable time with the team members ahead of their home tie against Hyderabad.
"During one-to-one sessions the player is more open since there is more privacy and that is always more effective," said Amre.
Subsequently every game Mumbai played ended in an outright victory. Despite being the best team, there are some pending issues, especially in the bowling department, where the early advantage has been squandered.
Even in the quarter-finals, Himachal Pradesh were reeling at 75-5 but managed to reach 250 in their first innings and forced Mumbai to bat a second time, though the former champions had a 245-run lead.
Amre feels that is where Zaheer's experience will prove crucial. "He will be like a role model, a big help in providing key inputs to the fast bowlers."
The selectors have made three other changes to the 15-man squad for the last-four clash: Ankit Chavan replaces fellow left-arm spinner Iqabal Abdulla while Prafulla Waghela and Rahil Shaikh make way for Tendulkar and Zaheer.
Wasim Jaffer remains captain.
Squad: Wasim Jaffer (c), Sachin Tendulkar, Ajinkya Rahane, Sahil Kukreja, Amol Muzumdar, Rohit Sharma, Ajit Agarkar, Vinayak Samant (wk), Sairaj Bahutule, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni, Abhishek Nayar, Usman Malvi and Ankit Chavan; Pravin Amre (coach)